Since the mid 80s, Austria has been restructuring and repositioning their wines.
Among the many wine regions of the world which I frequent, the wine-producing nation of Austria holds a special place in my heart. In the 15 years I have spent visiting the country, often at the invitation of their marketing board, I have seen it grow from a reviving and nascent industry to a blossoming and burgeoning one. This year, I spent a few fruitful days there, and here are some things I took away from it.
Quality: With bulk wine production down to near-negligible, and among the highest price per litre for their wines, Austria epitomises the term, “boutique winemaking”. The wineries have small-scale production, which allows the winemakers to be more hands-on in their approach. It also makes the product dearer as costs are high. So, instead of cutting corners to control costs, Austrians go all out to ensure that quality is top-notch. One may seem to pay a little more for a bottle of wine here (compared to, say, more popular regions across the world) but the value quotient is unmatched.
Uniqueness: Grüner Veltliner (or Gruvee), Rötgipfler, Zierfandler, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, Blauer Wildbacher…these are just some of the grapes found here, and most are unique to Austria. They also do Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet, but given the abundance of local grape varieties, I rarely reach out for the commoner international usual suspects.
Evolution: Since the mid 80s, Austria has been restructuring and repositioning their wines. Today, regions stand defined, wine styles are properly classified, and single vineyards, too, are constantly being identified. New appellations are on the charter, as things move along. Put otherwise, change is constant and evolutionary. This ensures the industry never rests on its laurels, but is striving constantly to improve, and ensure quality and provenance.
Innovation: Austria was the first to use glass closure. Today, although much of it stands replaced with screw cap. They are among the first to have made field-blend white wines a trendy thing. And now, they have a red Muscat grape, too, as also the mother of Gruvee, St. Georgen, century-old plants, which were recently found in a vineyard, and are being replicated. So, there is this constant energy of research and innovation that, at the same time, preserves traditions and also keep things fresh and contemporary.
Communication: It is one thing to have good wines, but it is equally important to be able to get that message out to the consumers and trade. In this, I think Austria is unparalleled in their constancy and consistency of the message being conveyed. From annual events to periodic tastings, they are extremely inclusive in their approach. I almost feel ashamed attending their events because, even after so many years, we barely have any Austrian wines to put on our lists. And yet, they relentlessly support the market with products, going as far as participating in the annual Indian sommelier championship.
So, if any trader or importer is reading this: please try and bring some of these lovely wines to India. Not only will it be a profitable decision, it will significantly improve the average quality of wines being quaffed out there. Personally, it will save me the excess weight of having to lug back bottles each time am there!
The writer is a sommelier